This year's notable Tribeca premieres
The 17th Tribeca Film Festival closes today after nearly two weeks of world premieres. Below, sample the critical response to over a dozen key films (and a few TV series) which debuted at this year's festival. (Note that any Tribeca premieres that have already debuted to the public prior to today—including the film Duck Butter, the Netflix miniseries Bobby Kennedy for President, and the new season of Westworld—are omitted, since they have subsequently been reviewed outside of the festival.)
Major award winners
Best Narrative Feature (U.S.)
Drama | USA | Directed by Kent Jones
Hitchcock/Truffaut director Kent Jones’ first narrative feature won Best Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography in the U.S. Narrative Feature Film section of the festival. Also earning the highest Metascore of the festival, the film is a “tender, wrenching, and beautifully made movie,” according to Owen Gleiberman of Variety, with a “remarkable performance” by Mary Kay Place in the title role as a widow who spends her days caring for others, including her drug-addicted son. Described as “raw, real and quietly affecting” by THR’s David Rooney, the film follows Diane, occasionally jumping forward in time to provide a portrait of life that is “quiet and profound,” according to Christian Gallichio of The Playlist.
Best Narrative Feature (International)
Comedy/Drama | Cyprus/Germany/Greece | Directed by Marios Piperides
Marios Piperides’ debut feature won the Best International Narrative Feature at the festival. Set in Cyprus and following the down-on-his-luck Yiannis as he tries to smuggle his dog Jimi across the buffer zone separating the Greek and Turkish sides of the island, the film is a “laidback charmer” with “droll comedy, understated political commentary and an adorable scene-stealing canine,” according to Allan Hunter of Screen Daily.
Best Documentary Feature
Island of the Hungry Ghosts
Documentary | Germany/UK/Australia | Directed by Gabrielle Brady
Gabrielle Brady’s first feature-length documentary is a poetic exploration of Christmas Island, a small island in the Indian Ocean where millions of red crabs migrate from jungle to sea every year and where asylum seekers wait in a detention facility to enter Australia. The award-winning film uses trauma therapist Poh Lin to guide viewers though the island’s past and present. Screen Daily’s Laurence Boyce believes the film’s “lyrical and poetic approach” to its subject “highlights not only the terrible reality faced by many, but also gently reveals the absurd cruelty at the heart of much of human behaviour.”
All About Nina
Drama/Comedy | USA | Directed by Eva Vives
Eva Vives’ debut feature stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nina, a stand-up comic who moves to Los Angeles to get a fresh start. Despite finding success and a new love interest (Common), Nina struggles to be happy. THR’s John DeFore claims it’s “yet another impressive performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead,” and Kimber Myers of The Playlist believes “there’s real depth and emotion present in the filmmaker’s sharp script, brought to life by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common.”
The Bleeding Edge
Documentary | USA | Directed by Kirby Dick
The latest documentary from director Kirby Dick (The Hunting Ground, The Invisible War) investigates the medical device industry through the personal stories of those affected by malpractice. The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky finds it “overstretched,” but Frank Scheck of THR claims it’s a “terrifying eye-opener.”
TV | USA | Directed by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, Steve Pink, Jennifer Celotta
The 1984 film The Karate Kid has received multiple sequels and even a remake over the ensuing years. Now, it comes to the small screen—via YouTube Red—and the results are a bit better than you might think. The new series takes place 34 years after the original movie, and returns original stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, with their characters rekindling their rivalry by mentoring a new generation of fighters at the newly reopened Cobra Kai dojo. In The Hollywood Reporter, Dan Fienberg doesn't exactly love the show, but he is surprised to find it "much more consistently entertaining than it has any right to be." EW's Kristen Baldwin is also entertained—and thinks fans of the original will be very pleased—as is io9's Germain Lussier, who believes the series "totally gets what made The Karate Kid so special," though he isn't certain whether newcomers will enjoy it as much as longtime fans. The series debuts Wednesday on the streaming service.
Drama/Comedy | USA/China | Directed by John Maringouin
Documentary director John Maringouin’s debut narrative feature stars David Zellner (the director of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) as a Texan hoping to acquire riches in China’s booming economy. This dark comedy is “at times wonderfully weird and digressive,” according to Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of the A.V. Club. Similarly, THR’s Harry Windsor claims the film is “certainly never boring, and Maringouin makes the madness feel queasily real.”
In a Relationship
Rom-com | USA | Directed by Sam Boyd
In writer-director Sam Boyd’s romantic-comedy, Hallie (Emma Roberts) and Owen (Michael Angarano) struggle to live separate lives after ending their long-term relationship. This debut feature is “watchable at its worst and irresistible at its best,” according to Indiewire’s David Ehrlich. And Peter Debruge of Variety finds it “much funnier than the vast majority of indie comedies.”
Sci-fi/Drama | USA | Directed by Bill Oliver
Directed by Bill Oliver, who co-wrote the script with Gregory Davis and Peter Nickowitz, this sci-fi drama stars Ansel Elgort as two men who share the same body. Patricia Clarkson plays the scientist who has helped the two personalities find balance until Suki Waterhouse enters their lives. This debut feature “succeeds thanks to a credibly bifurcated performance by star Ansel Elgort,” according to John DeFore of THR. And Variety’s Dennis Harvey believes it’s an “intelligent, absorbing tale.”
Documentary | USA | Directed by Lisa D'Apolito
Director Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary portrait of comedian Gilda Radner is a “warm if not quite comprehensive-feeling biography,” according to John DeFore of THR. Indiewire’s Kate Erbland agrees the “authorized approach ... leaves something to be desired,” but TheWrap believes the film offers a “tender and lovely portrait.”
Documentary | UK | Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui
Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s portrait of fashion designer Alexander McQueen covers his life from its modest beginnings to its tragic end by combining his personal archives, footage from his ground-breaking shows, and interviews with his family and friends into something intimate. “Like McQueen’s designs, it is thrilling, troubling and tinged with tragedy,” writes Wendi Ide for Screen Daily. The documentary begins a limited release in theaters on July 13th.
The Party’s Just Beginning
Drama/Comedy | Scotland | Directed by Karen Gillan
In her debut feature as writer-director, Karen Gillan stars as a woman trying (and failing) to come to grips with the suicide of her friend. Set in Gillan’s hometown of Inverness, Scotland, the film “wallows in a despair it remains naggingly detached from,” according to Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. However, Kate Erbland writes in her B+ review for Indiewire, “Even in the midst of so many different tragedies, The Party’s Just Beginning never gets overwrought, instead keeping a close hold on the humanity at its core.”
Drama | USA | Directed by Michael Mayer
Directed by Michael Mayer from a script by Stephen Karam, this adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play captures the romantic entanglements of an aging actress (Annette Bening), her son (Billy Howle), his love interest (Saoirse Ronan) and her crush, a famous novelist played by Corey Stoll. David D’Arcy of Screen Daily finds it “solid and satisfying,” and THR’s Frank Scheck calls it a “wholly respectable version featuring terrific performances from its estimable ensemble.” A limited theatrical release begins on May 11th.
Documentary | USA | Directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown
In their first feature effort, Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown chronicle the history of the African-American roller-rink community, including the not-so-subtle racist policies they have fought against. Variety’s Peter Debruge writes, “Like such trendsetting classics as Paris Is Burning and Rize, this kaleidoscopically vibrant, essential-viewing survey plunges audiences into a dazzling underground scene, celebrating the endangered art form it finds there.”
Drama | USA | Directed by Fabien Constant
Fabien Constant’s debut narrative feature spends 24 hours with jazz singer Vivienne Carala (Sarah Jessica Parker) as she copes with the news of having a terminal illness. The mixed reactions from critics are evident in Keith Uhlich’s THR review: “Superficiality reigns, but then a truly affecting scene will pop up.” Similarly, David D’Arcy of Screen Daily writes, “[Parker] hits some of the right notes, but much of it ends up off-key.”
Drama | UK | Directed by James Gardner
Writer-director James Gardner’s debut feature chronicles the troubles of 15-year-old Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill), the sole caretaker of her manic-depressive mother and twin siblings. As her difficulties pile up, Sarah finds an outlet for her frustrations in stand-up comedy. Screen Daily’s Tim Grierson believes it’s an “affecting, delicate but familiar coming-of-age drama,” but the film’s “kitchen-sink miserablism ends up feeling a little pat, reducing pathos to predictable plot points.” Writing for THR, Keith Uhlich adds, “Sarah’s circumstances are so ridiculously dire that there’s little left to do but laugh at them.”
Drama | USA | Directed by Ondi Timoner
Documentarian Ondi Timoner (Brand: A Second Coming, We Live in Public) takes on the life of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in her scripted debut, but the result disappointed most critics. Variety’s Peter Debruge admits Timoner “doesn’t shy away from the hardcore bits,” but believes she fails to “capture what made the radical photographer tick." And Keith Uhlich of THR claims a “superb performance by former Doctor Who Matt Smith is the only reason” to see the film.
State Like Sleep
Drama | USA | Directed by Meredith Danluck
Writer-director Meredith Danluck’s first feature follows Katherine Waterston’s grieving widow to Brussels where she discovers secrets from her husband’s past. Indiewire’s David Ehrlich describes it as a “portrait of grief ... too hazy and anesthetized to add up,” but Nick Schager of Variety believes this “consistently surprising film slinks along with melancholic dreaminess, matching the fugue state that plagues its grief-stricken protagonist.”
Drama | Canada/Sweden/USA | Directed by Robert Budreau
Writer-director Robert Budreau reunites with his Born to be Blue star, Ethan Hawke, for this loose dramatization of the 1973 Noormalmstorg robbery that inspired the psychological term "Stockholm Syndrome." Hawke stars as robber Lars Nystrom and Noomi Rapace is one of his hostages. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman thinks Budreau “can’t decide whether he’s pitching a docudrama or a sitcom,” but John DeFore of THR finds the film “funny and agile.”
TV | USA
This disappointing half-hour drama series is based on Stephanie Danler's novel about a young woman whose new job pulls her in into the chaotic and debauched world of high-end dining in New York City. Ella Purnell stars as Tess, and her co-stars include Caitlin FitzGerald, Paul Sparks, and Tom Sturridge. Critics at the festival didn't exactly enjoy what they were served. The Hollywood Reporter's Dan Fienberg notes TV's checkered history in depicting the restaurant world on the small screen, but laments that Sweetbitter doesn't fare much better, coming across as "pretty tame" and lacking the "dreamy flow of Danler's prose." Indiewire's Ben Travers is even less impressed, calling the show "cartoonish" and "shallow to the point of being narcissistic." The six-episode series makes its television debut next Sunday (May 6) on Starz.
Drama/Sci-fi | UK/Canada | Directed by Drake Doremus
While he was able to bring together another impressive cast (Ewan McGregor, Léa Seydoux, Theo James, Rashida Jones), director Drake Doremus (Newness, Equals) disappointed critics yet again with his latest look at love in the near future. Written by Richard Greenberg, the film tackles computerized relationship compatibility tests and the possibility of androids (or "synthetics" as they’re termed in the film) as partners through the life of McGregor’s Cole, a robotics and AI pioneer. THR’s John DeFore believes it’s a “beautifully acted, affecting drama that teases some questions society may need to answer sooner than we expect.” But Owen Gleiberman of Variety finds the result a “chilly but soft-headed do-androids-dream-of-electric-love? sci-fi romance.” And The Playlist’s Lena Wilson writes, “Though its potential-heavy premise could have yielded true innovation, this film’s ridiculous story is as expendable as its bullshit tech.”